In the not too distant past, tennis great Andre Agassi starred in a series of television commercials in which he proclaimed, “Attitude is everything!” That tagline referred to the young, long-haired tennis star’s renegade outlook, one which went so far as to prevent him from competing at Wimbledon for several years because he refused to give up his bold-colored tennis clothes for the all-white clothes required of the prestigious tournament’s competitors.
Eventually, Agassi relented – and won Wimbledon, to boot. But that doesn’t mean his mantra of “Attitude is Everything” was wrong. Time and again, studies have shown that attitude means a lot. When it comes to hiring new employees, attitude could be even more important than skills and experience, as attitude has now been recognized as the key driver of new hire success.
According to a Leadership IQ study of 20,000 new hires over a three-year period, 46 percent failed within their first 18 months. Eighty-nine percent of the time, they failed due to attitudinal reasons such as lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament. Lack of skill was the cause of the failure just 11 percent of the time. These findings have led a growing number of savvy leaders to shift their focus from hiring for skills to hiring for attitude.
Let us be clear: Hiring for attitude does not mean you can forego skills, experience, and requisite training. When it comes to deciding between two (or more) otherwise equal candidates, however, you might want to err on the side of attitude.
How exactly does one “hire for attitude,” you ask? Begin by identifying the specific attitudes that lead to success in your unique corporate culture and then look for those attitudes among candidates.
Take Southwest Airlines, for example. Often cited as a Great Place to Work, Southwest is known for creating a fun environment and encouraging its people to be a bit outrageous. One famous story involves a hiring manager who asked a group of potential new Southwest pilots to don a pair of Bermuda shorts for the interview. Many of the pilots found the suggestion preposterous and refused to put on the shorts, which were actually part of the airline’s summer uniform. Those pilots immediately took themselves out of the running, as the hiring manager concluded they may be great pilots, but would never fit into the airline’s fun-loving culture.
Technical skills can be acquired through training and confirmed through testing, but attitude is either there to begin with or it isn’t. Consider the words of former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher: “We can change skill levels through training, but we can’t change attitude.”